Tuesday, May 24, 2016

GDC 2016 - Art Leadership Roundtable - Day 3

For the third and final day, we crowd-sourced the key topic again, and the winner was Artist Career Path.  Second place topic went to outsourcing, which I will make a key topic next year, for certain.
Although, Artist Career Path is a very broad topic - we seemed to focus primarily on the path to entry level positions -- this is unsurprising, as more and more students are coming to GDC each year.

Therefore, we started on the topic of entry level positions.  Generally, fewer entry level positions are available now than ever before.  So, the question was posed, how do you make entry level positions available?
  • One studio indicated that they create positions specifically for students.  Naturally, this can be affected by the studio's proximity to relevant schools.  Regardless, summer internships provide an opportunity to craft a focused ~2 month training period.
  • Another attendee indicated that they see interns as a "try before you buy" opportunity.  It's a solid test program, which in turn can lead to full-time employment or remote contract opportunities.
  • The better the relationship between the studio and the school, the higher the quality the applicants.  If possible, artists at your studio should be teaching and training the next generation of employees.  Furthermore, this provides an opportunity for the studio to approach graduates before they start applying.  On a personal note, I'm opposed to studio's poaching students before they complete their degree.  This bullet point is about getting a jump start on students who are nearing completion of a program.
  • Another attendee strongly encouraged students to start freelancing / contracting while they are in school.  Rather than waiting for a position to be posted, they should look for any opportunities to build upon their portfolio as soon as reasonably possible.
  • Another participant countered with their own experience -- they indicated that, in Spain, the economic situation creates an environment where studios can take advantage of students.  While we didn't explore the full depth of the problem, it doesn't take much imagination to foresee a scenario in which limited opportunities plus an eager pool of talent could yield a setting in which employers avoid full-time hires and instead rely on a large pool of underpaid "volunteers."
  • The international vantage point inspired others to share their own experiences.  One developer indicated that, in Poland, the studios will bring in talented artists without requiring a formal education.  This was interesting to hear, and easily validates the comment that portfolio trumps degree -- something I've found myself debating academia here in the US periodically.
  • Another attendee shared their studio's desire to actively solicit students from other countries.
  • In contrast, another developer expressed concern about the German development pool, where it was said that they had an overabundance of junior artists and interns and not enough senior staff to properly train and/or lead.
So, I asked the attendees how they went about locating interns?  How did they attract them?  Purely with compensation, or something else entirely?
  • One studio shared that they had a dedicated recruiter, specifically for students/interns.  Others indicated that this was a shared responsibility between staffing managers and/or regular recruiters.
  • Some studios indicated that they offered paid internships.  Most also seemed to offer a housing stipend as well.
  • Other studios said they only did unpaid internships, but realized that this limited their pool of candidates to those who were semi-local.
Next, I asked who trains your interns?  Do you offer a dedicated training resource?  How does production support interns within the confines of project management?
  • One participant strongly advocated for the creation of a training community culture. This is often most effective will nurtured from the ground up.  As culture is best influenced through hiring practices, this strategy is best employed through the recruiting of artists who are inspired to learn, share and inspire others.  In this environment, the intern will be trained up naturally.
  • Another attendee advised that interns should be brought into the formal structure of the team or studio.  Some studios bring interns into an area or department whose work might be ancillary or one step removed from core development.  I agree that embedding them into the full project is where the greatest opportunity for both learning and benefit can be sought.
  • As for the budgeting question, one person indicated that it is often best to identify a different budget pool for interns separate from the project.  Naturally, I expect this requires buy in from the highest level of the studio.  However, this is definitely a clear and concise way in which the studio can communicate their commitment to supporting education and departmental growth.
  • As noted above, if your employees teach locally, then the impact of training can be minimized significantly.  Likewise, if your studio is closely partnered with an academic institution, you can identify skill deficiencies or staffing needs within your studio and then feed that information back to the school(s).  This requires a fair amount of future-planning, but the potential rewards are possible.
At this point, one audience member voiced the question, "What do you do when a student's portfolio is good, but you have no intern positions available?"
  • The most concise answer was to offer them full-time employment.  It's worth noting that this can cut both ways.  Yes, it may gain you a good entry-level artist immediately.  However, if this happens too frequently, it may come at a cost with your relationship with the school from which you are drawing students.
  • If, by contrast, you want the student to stay in school but continue working, explore the opportunity for contract work.
  • The general consensus from the audience was that talent/portfolio takes precedence over degree.  The logic is that if school is meant to train and skill and you can get a job -- then the school's work is done.  However, the other factors listed should be kept in mind -- especially so that hiring managers can approach the option "eyes wide open."
Next, I asked how the studio (or team) identifies that an intern isn't a fit.  Related, we also touched on the process of interviewing intern candidates.  The following comments were shared:
  • It was pointed out that, with a proper coaching/mentoring structure in place, the team will be the first to identify the problem -- potentially ahead of the staffing manager or recruiter.
  • It was also noted that putting interns through a formal interview process (despite the fact that there may be a lower bar to entry) is an effective way to "culture screen" an intern candidate.
  • Related to this, it's great if the intern has strong rapport and/or a good sense of humor. However, being a "fit" is about a match in values,and the team needs to have a clear understanding of their values to compare against.
  • This goes well beyond just intern candidates, but it is crucial that interviewers be thinking about the studio's culture as well as their organizational values.  Yes, this does mean adequately training people who are going to be interviewing.  Hiring and dismissal are the two most effective tools at establishing and preserving culture; investing heavily in the former will save you from having to deal with the latter.
  • Some attendees shared that their studios have been giving feedback to academia on preparing interns for interviews -- more specifically, institutions should make students interview for a position in a highly sought-after class.
  • In addition to interviewing experience, students/interns should also have experience working on game jams (either through formal curriculum or through external participation).
Although we didn't delve deeply into the topic, in our last few minutes we did touch on the topic of ethnic and cultural boundaries/differences.  As development teams have become more varied, there has developed a growing need to understand how leadership differs from culture to culture.  A few brief takeaways that are worth sharing:
  • Develop a sense of cultural awareness.  Recognize that people are different, and become interested in those differences.
  • One particular book was recommended:  Beyond Culture by Edward T. Hall
  • Lastly, successful leaders/managers will be those who move beyond awareness and begin to take an interest in understanding those differences.  This is not meant to suggest infinite flexibility, but rather a willingness to learn and a desire to seek engagement.
 Before I wrap this final GDC2016 post, I wanted to take one last moment to thank all of the participants and attendees at the Art Leadership Roundtable.  Your presence and engagement is what keeps me coming back year after year.  And I hope to see many of you again in 2017

Speaker Evaluation

Here is the raw, unedited report from the day's roundtable

Art Leadership Roundtable: Day3

Friday, March 18th at 10:00AM

Room 120, North Hall
Total Headcount: 77

Roundtable Session Ranking within Visual Arts Track: your session is ranked 7 of 12

Roundtable Session Ranking within GDC 2016: your session ranked 15 of 59

Session Totals (This Session)
Percentage of Responses

These are my favorite sessions of the show, and are truly helpful to industry professionals.
i dont want to spend this valuble time talking about stuff related to students and recruitment. Should be more sbout leadership
Great moderation and discussion today
Want to attend next year!
Worthwhile. Lots to learn. Though the room size is too small. Had to queue and wasn't allowed in.
This roundtable session (and the others) were by far my favorite sessions because of my chance of participation and being among both beginners and veterans.
I look forward to this roundtable every year. It's extremely useful and well run.

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